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Are you curious how to best enjoy the pristine nature of Switzerland? Camping or renting a campervan for an epic road trip is a great way to see the very best of Switzerland. If you’re following my campervan itinerary for Switzerland these are the campervan and camping tips you’ll need to have the best time in Switzerland. These tips are specific to campervanning in Switzerland, but also apply to those on a road trip and renting cabins from campgrounds, to help you understand the driving rules of the road and know what to expect at Switzerland’s campgrounds.
Make sure you pin this post along with my campervan itinerary to plan your dream swiss road trip and campervan adventure. Let’s jump in with all my top tips and essential information for Camper Van travel in Switzerland. [no_toc]
WHAT WE’RE COVERING
- The highlight of Switzerland is the nature
- Road tripping is the best way to see Switzerland
- Driving in Switzerland with a campervan is different than other European countries
- This post gives you the best tips to keep you safe on the road and avoid unexpected surprises at campgrounds
Renting a Campervan
If you don’t have a campervan and you’re coming to Europe just for an epic campervan road trip through Switzerland, then have no fear; there are plenty of places to rent a campervan near the Swiss border.
We have a year-long rental from Roadsurfer. Roadsurfer is a German campervan company with rental locations all over the EU, including two Swiss border locations. We drove from our house in Munich but depending on where you plan on arriving or departing, you can fly into Geneva, Basel, Milan, Lyon, Munich, or Basel. From those locations, you can rent a road surfer and drive into Switzerland. We love Roadsurfer because they are a friendly, modern company with English-speaking staff and loads of great options for van rentals. They are responsive to emails, have excellent customer service, and we’ve been so happy with the long-term rental we got from them.
Alternatives for rental companies are Indie Campers, or Swiss-based My Camper.
Many companies have an age limit between 18-25 to rent a car – similar to in the U.S., so verify the age requirements and license requirements before you rent to ensure you can legally drive.
Don’t want the hassle of renting a campervan?
Our Swiss campervan itinerary also works with a rental car paired with camping, glamping, or cabin stays instead of staying in a campervan. All the campgrounds I recommend have cabins or chalets on-site and space for tent pitching. So, if you’re not comfortable driving a larger campervan around Switzerland, I recommend booking cabins or ready-made campers on site. All these road and driving tips for Switzerland still apply.
Rules of the Road: Road Trip Tips for Switzerland
Now that you have a campervan and you’ll be driving across Switzerland, we need to cover a few rules of the road, some specific to campervans.
The Swiss Vignette
Instead of toll roads, Switzerland requires a paid vignette to drive on their highways. It is a sticker you put on your windshield that you can buy from any gas station. Just make sure you have it in your car before you drive on the main motorway. Vignettes are good for the entire calendar year, and they are about 40 CHF. When Google Maps tells you, you are taking a toll road it just means you will need the Vignette.
C02 and Carbon Offsetting
Most European campervans use diesel fuel with AdBlue. While AdBlue helps reduce the harmful impact of diesel fuel, the truth is that your campervan road trip comes with a carbon cost. To balance this, I recommend keeping tabs on the kilometers you drive during your trip. Afterward, you can carbon offset with Swiss-based MyClimate. If you are a more frequent traveler and prefer to make ongoing donations to support carbon removal, I suggest becoming a member of Tomorrow’s Air, which removes carbon through Climeworks. I’m a member, and you can support carbon removal programs for only $10 a month.
Other tips to reduce your impact during your Switzerland road trip are:
- Drive the speed limit. Faster speeds burn your fuel faster, and you’ll be filling up more often. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also be emitting less carbon.
- Pack in what you pack out. Don’t leave any waste or rubbish around. Check your camp for anything left behind.
- Ditch the plastic. When you buy snacks, try and get fresh local bio fruits and veggies. Zurich has several zero-waste stores for grocery shopping. Or better yet, buy local produce from farms as you travel.
- Offset your trip at home by riding your bike, taking the bus, saving energy, and reducing water consumption.
Switzerland is a very vulnerable country in terms of climate change. Their glaciers and towering snow-covered mountains are the reason many of us travel to see Switzerland. If we do not take care and offset our travels to Switzerland, we will lose the very thing that makes this country so special. We were so fortunate to camp below glaciers in Switzerland. Future generations won’t have this opportunity if we don’t act now. PLEASE offset your road trip.
Border Crossings and Paperwork
If you are driving from a bordering EU country, such as France, Spain, or Italy then keep in mind that Switzerland is not part of the EU. They recognize open borders with the EU meaning there is often not anyone at the border that will stop you, and you’ll likely be able to drive on through. However, there is a small chance you will get stopped. For this reason, make sure you have a driver’s license legal in the EU. (You can drive in Switzerland with any EU license, or any major countries like Australia, the US, or the U.K. without problem). When you rent your campervan, make sure you know and understand all the paperwork and insurance that comes with it – usually stored in the glove compartment. While it doesn’t always happen I have had to show my driver’s license, passport, and vehicle registration at the Swiss border. I live near the Swiss border with Germany, and we frequently drive into Switzerland. The border guards can be a bit of a stickler about coming to a full stop at the border stop sign. So, whether you see a border guard or not, make sure you come to a FULL STOP at the stop sign. Trust me, I learned this the hard way – as they came out just to yell at me for not stopping before waving me on.
Speed Limits, Driving Rules, and Tickets
Speed limits are the same across most cantons in Switzerland and are set differently for different driving situations. All the below speeds can change if it is raining, snowing, or icy.
- When you pass through a town: 50km/h
- Roads on the outskirts of town: 80km/h
- Smaller highways: 100km/h
- Motorways/Freeways: 120km/h
- Larger vehicles and those pulling a trailer: 100km/h max
Other general rules:
- Drive on the right
- Stop for pedestrians approaching the zebra crossing. Swiss drivers are very liberal with this and will often stop if they see someone approaching.
- Headlights must be on at all times
- Those in the left lane must pull over to provide a Rettungsgasse, or a lane, for emergency vehicles to pass if there is heavy traffic.
- By law, you are required to have a traffic triangle in your car and safety vests. Ensure you know where these are when you rent your car or campervan.
While it is a bit of a myth you are fined based on your income, fines in Switzerland can be pretty high, and they take speed limits very seriously. If you are going 11km/h over, fines can reach 250 CHF. The Swiss do not speed, so neither should you.
Signs and Languages
Keep in mind that Switzerland has four national languages. As soon as you cross a border of a Canton with a different language, you’ll notice signs change. Be aware of all critical signs in French, German, Italian, and Romanish. I recommend downloading all languages offline on Google translate to help you in a pinch.
Swiss Mountain Passes, Weather, and Technical Driving
The roads in Switzerland are well maintained, and Swiss drivers are orderly and law-abiding, generally making for stress-free driving. However, the notorious swiss mountain passes listed below are a bit more technical. The mountain passes worth putting on your itinerary are, but there are countless passes you can explore.
- St. Gotthard Pass – This pass includes 24 hairpin turns in 4 kilometers and has a stretch of cobblestone road thrown into the mix.
- Grand St. Bernard Pass – Explore the pass where the St. Bernard dogs helped travelers through
- San Bernardino – Escape into the mountains seeing alpine lakes
- Furka – The famous pass from James Bond’s Goldfinger
- Albula Pass- See the Albula UNESCO rail bridge and charming villages
Some general guidelines for helping you navigate the mountain passes are:
- You can keep your gear between 1-3 for mountain passes and can use the gear to help you descend without over-relying on breaks.
- The mountain passes include tight hairpin turns with drops on one side. They are narrow two-lane roads, so be mindful of oncoming traffic.
- You should be able to drive in stressful situations on narrow roads and understand how to give way and let large vehicles pass.
- Mountain passes are only open in summer, and the weather determines their opening and closing dates.
- Even in summer, you may encounter stormy and cold weather in the mountains. Make sure you have a safety kit in the car.
- I recommend looking up the weather and road conditions and whether the pass is open before you begin your ascent.
- Do not stop and take photographs. Use the designated pullouts and viewpoints for this.
- There are often cyclists sharing these narrow roads with you, so be sure to give them plenty of space.
- Driving slow and keeping your eyes on the road is the best way to stay safe.
We are big fans of settling into our campsite, parking the car, and then utilizing public transportation, our own two feet, bikes, or paddleboard to explore surrounding areas. This helps reduce our carbon emissions, and we get an intimate look at the areas surrounding the camp. It also prevents stress from driving a larger vehicle around. However, there will be times you want to explore a town or city on your drive between campsites. In that case, you will likely have to find parking. Parking is not typically free unless it is a holiday or Sunday, so make sure you have some small change on you and a parking wheel. If you rent a car, you should have a blue parking wheel in your glove compartment. In Blue parking areas, you often get two free hours. You should move the parking wheel to identify the time you pared and place it in your window. If you don’t do this, you will likely get a ticket instead of free parking. There are a few paid parking apps you can download as well, including TWINT and PARK NOW Switzerland.
There are plenty of rest stops on the side of the road. Look for signs indicating a park (a tree and picnic bench) and WC so you can get out, stretch your legs and enjoy some nature. These are free, and the toilets are well maintained.
- Gas in Switzerland is usually between 1.40 – 1.80 CHF per liter. Gas stations are easy to find, and you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping fueled up between stops.
- The exception to this is mountain passes, which do not have gas stations, be sure to fill up before entering a mountain pass.
- Fill up your own gas.
- Credit cards are accepted at all gas stations.
Being a mountainous region, Switzerland has many highway tunnels that cut through the mountains to save time. If you want to skip the mountain pass and just get from A to B, you’ll be in and out of many long tunnels. The tunnels are often narrow and dimly lit. Keep your headlights on and stay in your lane. Often the driving speed is reduced for the tunnels.
Rules of the Camp: Tips for Camping and Campervanning in Switzerland
Where Can You Camp?
Switzerland seems like it would be the ideal place to pull over in a remote area and set up camp with your campervan. However, in most places, you cannot set up your campervan on the side of the road unless it is for an ‘emergency,’ and even that comes with some stipulations. What counts as an emergency? Say you’re driving and you’re too tired to make it to an official campsite, and you need to pull over in a parking lot to sleep – that’s fine. If you do pull over in one of these emergencies, you can not just pull up on the side of the road or off-road to the middle of a field. I recommend, instead, you find a large pull-out, parking lot, or something safely away from the road and away from private property. Furthermore, you’re not supposed to look like you’re camping. While cooking a meal in your campervan fine, you shouldn’t set up a table and chairs, crack out the wine, boombox, pop the top of your camper and rock out. It is also illegal to offroad with your car.
The Park4Night app is an excellent resource for these situations and will help you find a safe and legal place to spend the night nearby.
Regional Canton rules may differ, but, regardless of the Canton, wild camping is not allowed in National Parks, Nature Reserves, Game Reserves, farmland, private property, or protected areas. The potential fine for breaking the law can be up to 10,000 CHF. Furthermore, wild camping in a campervan can damage the local ecosystem and increase waste in the region. As a general rule of thumb, I would stick to designated camping sites and areas and use the app in an emergency.
How to Find a Campsite
Switzerland has some great campsites that you should be utilizing. They have a wide variety of sites ranging from plots on a small bio farm to large campsites great for the whole family. Check out my itinerary for all the great campsites we stayed at along the way. But, if you are going to different areas or my recommendations are full, then the following are great websites to help you find a campsite:
- Campspace.com – a site for rustic natural campsites
- Pitchup.com – a site for a wide variety of campsites
- Googlemaps.com – type campsite into search and look for places in your areas.
- Park4Night.com – an app for places to park overnight, primarily for one night without facilities.
- TCS is the major Swiss camping company with large campgrounds places around Switzerland
Most sites cost between 30 CHF, on the cheaper side, and 50 CHF on the more expensive side. Electricity is usually a few CHF per night in addition to the base cost. Whereas mobile homes and cabin rentals are much more expensive, with prices well over 100 CHF per night. Of course, prices vary by location and type of camping site you book.
Reservations & Plan B
I highly recommend you make reservations if you are traveling in the summer and have a specific spot you want to stay. However, some of our favorite places didn’t take online reservations, and you’ll need to arrive after check-in to snag a spot. In this case, I recommend arriving shortly after check-in, and also having a plan B, either another campsite or use the Park4Night app.
We like to plan our campervan travel with a mix of bookings with a few unplanned breaks in-between. This means we will book a few nights at a campsite to secure one of our favorite locations and leave a night or two between the next booking to find a more rural spot with the P4N app. But, if you’re someone who likes to have things booked and secure, you’ll want to plan. With the rise of road trips, mobile homes, and camper van travel, and camping in the post-pandemic world, campsites will be increasingly busy during the summer months. So, book when you can, and always be ready to go with the flow.
Most campsites in Switzerland offer the following services:
- Toilet, showers, and waste facilities
- Fresh potable water
- Holiday cabins for rent
- Space for tents, RVs, campervans
- Playground or activities for younger kids
- Restaurant/bar or options to buy meals
- A small shop for essentials
- Access to or recommendations for tourist activities in the area
- Pet friendly for those bringing pets from the EU (pets from 3rd countries require specific paperwork, please see local rules for your specific situation)
- A ‘car’ wash
- Laundry facilities
- Dishwashing area
- Rec or indoor reading room
Other Information about Campsites in Switzerland
- Switzerland uses a J plug. While some camping sites had electricity for an EU plug, we needed a J adapter for a few places. Our campervan came with an adapter, but if you don’t have one, I recommend asking at reception as a few places offered an adapter for rent with a deposit.
- Most places in Switzerland recycle. Make sure you sort your rubbish into the glass, aluminum/carton/plastic, bio, and paper.
- You can pay by credit card. Many places charge you on your way out in case you add anything to your bill. However, some places will take payment with online booking or when you check-in.
- Especially in the French Cantons, you can order daily bread from the reception. You will need to do this the night before and pick up your fresh baguette in the morning.
- Most Swiss water is potable. So, you can fill up your water bottle from the bathroom taps unless otherwise stated.
- Most receptionists at the large campsites spoke English. However, some of the smaller sites in the French Cantons only spoke French.
- Plots were smaller, more packed, and less aesthetic compared to sites in other countries we’ve taken our campervan. While you’ll have room for an awning, table, and chairs, you won’t be able to go all out and set up too many extras like shelters, hammocks, and such.
Pandemic Guidelines (2021)
- All campsites required masks in enclosed areas such as toilet stalls, reception, bars, restaurants, etc.
- Sanitizing stations are stationed throughout the campsites.
- Most places had capacity limits for bathrooms and shower facilities, often closing every other shower
- Most facilities were cleaned regularly
- Your EU contract tracing app does work in Switzerland. I recommend this to anyone coming from the EU.
- Have your proof of vaccine or negative test ready to show based on current and local guidelines
- Overall we were happy with the level of hygiene by guests and campground staff – however, some were better than others and there were always those select few not wearing a mask. It is important to take health and safety seriously so we can continue to enjoy camping in a pose pandemic world.
It is your responsibility to know all guidelines and health restrictions for each Canton. You can find the latest information on the Swiss Government’s health website, including restrictions on those coming from non-EU 3rd countries.
Gas and Dumping
Most campsites will have room for you to dump grey water, flush your cassette-style black water, and fill your water tank. However, some of the smaller or more rustic sights may not have this option. There are a few gas stations with dumping facilities, but I recommend you just wait until you’re at a campsite with these services as they are quite convenient.
Camping Gaz is the most common type of gas used in campervans in Europe. If you are running low ask reception if they carry CG, or use the Camping Gaz location finder to find a replacement tank.
Supermarkets & Food
Coop is the most common supermarket in the region. I recommend searching for them to re-supply your food. One of the benefits of renting a German-owned Road Surfer is buying groceries in Germany, where things are much cheaper. Otherwise, budget for Swiss supermarket prices. We also stayed at a few farms and rural areas and always made sure to get eggs, bread, and cheese from them directly to stimulate rural economies.
Weather & When to Visit
I mentioned in Rules of the Road that most mountain passes are only open in summer. Then in Rules of the Camp, I said that during summer campgrounds are going to be crowded. So when is the best time to visit? Is summer too crowded? Will I miss you on the mountain passes in the off-season? For the best of both worlds, I recommend visiting in early June or late September to try summer activities such as hiking with agreeable weather, but avoid the densest crowds.
We did our big campervan trip in May, and while the mountain passes were closed, we still had a great time enjoying hiking, paddleboarding, and sightseeing with minimal crowds, making May and October also great times to visit. Having done a mountain pass in mid-summer when driving from Munich to Italy I can say it is a spectacular experience, but I prefer to avoid crowds. So, just determine what is important to you. Germans go on holiday in August, so I caution against August travel without securing bookings as large family groups will likely be traveling from Germany.
- May and October: Minimal crowds, closed mountain passes, fewer families, a better chance of staying at your dream campsite, some snow possible, colder temperatures especially at night, more availability on excursions like trains, gondolas, etc.
- June and September: Average crowds, open mountain passes, more family travel, agreeable weather.
- July and August: Peak summer crowds, lots of families, warm weather, the possibility of overbooked campsites
- Winter: Great for skiing/winter activities, snow tires and winter driving skills required, van heater a must, fewer people camping, but winter tourists visiting ski towns, possible temps below zero, ice and snow on roads.
What to Pack
If you visit during the shoulder seasons in May or September – October makes sure you pack base layers, warm clothing, and blankets for your campervan. I recommend hiking gear, waterproofs, and layers no matter the season as it can get cold in higher elevations. We also made use of:
- Bicycles with panniers for sightseeing trips
- Outdoor lights
- Colder weather gas for shoulder-season
- Rain boots
Discuss and Share
I hope these Campervan tips for your Switzerland camping and road trip help you plan a safe and fun holiday. Make sure you pin and share these tips to your Switzerland planning boards.
- Are you planning a camping or campervan trip to Switzerland? What are you most excited or nervous about?
- Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!
Absolutely loved this! So detailed, thorough, and informative. I’ve only visited Geneva before but this article enabled me to learn so much and opened me up to sustainable travel, how Switzerland is taking steps to protect the environment, and how we can be more cautious as travelers. Looking forward to doing a road trip through Switzerland one day. While I was in Geneva the nature was beautiful and was only a brief glimpse of what the rest of the country has to offer :)
Thanks so much. Funnily enough all the times I’ve been to Switzerland I haven’t yet explored Geneva. Sounds like we both need to return to see the remaining parts of the country. I’m glad you found the road trip tips for Switzerland helpful, especially the notes on sustainability.
I’ve only ever done a campervan road trip in southern Spain, but my girlfriend would love to go to Switzerland next and I love the idea of doing one here as well! There’s a lot to consider so thanks for the tips!
Switzerland is the perfect location for a campervan road trip. I hope these tips will help you all plan an awesome time. I have an itinerary almost ready to publish as well.
This is so helpful! It is a dream of mine to road trip (or just visit) Switzerland. Saving this for the future!
I hope you are able to visit sometime. Road tripping really is the best way to see the area.
When I travel, I use public transport or a rented car, but if I would choose to travel by campervan in Switzerland, I would definitely use all your detailed and useful advice. Thanks for sharing!
Great post Susanna! I’m actually about to start planning next year’s anniversary trip (if Covid-regulations allow) to head on over to Switzerland. Your post contains a lot of valuable information and I’m definitely going to be booking it and referencing back to this as I plan my trip in more detail! Looking forward to more Switzerland related posts in the future!
How exciting for next year’s anniversary trip. Switzerland by campervan will be a great place for that. Also, to respond to your other question posted on Facebook, the app TWINT is great for paying for parking. I’ll have to add that road trip tip into my post so other people can download it before they go as well.
Wow! This is such a cool article. Traveling Switzerland in a campervan is totally our style! Saving your article for later :) Thanks for the tips.
Campervan and road-tripping really is the best way to see Switzerland, if you ask me! I hope you can do it.
Hi susanna, I’m ratna from Indonesia. Thank you for your helpful article. May I know how much money spending for the gasoline for your RV and how far is the total kilometres for your trip?
Hi Ratna, I usually don’t share mileage or budget reports as they are subjective to each person’s experience and contextually based on the current global economic situation and gas prices. Especially with gasoline prices so volatile in the last month – they have increased quite a lot since I wrote this post. I can recommend you research current gas prices in Switzerland and use Google plans to plan a route similar to what we did d https://curiositysavestravel.com/switzerland-campervan-and-road-trip-itinerary/ and plan your budget according to current conditions and gas prices.
Best of luck!
Your info is great! We love Switzerland and we have already visited the two of us 3 times in the past with public transportation. My question is if we rent a campervan how should we transfer ourselves? Are campervans allowed everywhere as cars?we now have a baby so it is difficult to have bikes. Is public transportation available in or near most camper stations?
Thank you for your help in advance!
How amazing is it that you get to return to Switzerland with your little one? It depends on where you stay. If you follow my Switzerland itinerary: https://curiositysavestravel.com/switzerland-campervan-and-road-trip-itinerary/, a few places like La Fouly are inaccessible via public transit. I would suggest sticking to main campgrounds like the one I recommend near Lauterbrunnen for more bus and train options. Depending on the type of campervan you have, you could choose to drive it out for the day and return to camp at night. Finally, most campsites we stayed at had glamping pods or cabins. You could just rent a regular car with a car seat and use that to get around while staying in a cabin.